The House Energy and Commerce Committee this morning released a discussion draft of legislation to amend the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. Congress passed the CPSIA in 2008 with overwhelming support only to discover that the law’s ham-handed approach to regulating children’s products did enormous damage to businesses and consumers alike, driving ATVs and kids bikes off the market, pre-1985 children’s books out libraries, warm jackets out of thrift stores and small craftspeople — like knitters and hand-made toy manufacturers — out of business.

Grossly expensive testing requirements also increase costs of manufactured goods to consumers with no discernible safety benefits.

In many cases, the Consumer Product Safety Commission sought to minimize the harm of the law’s overreach by granting stays of enforcement. However, the CPSC’s discretion is limited by the clear — if unreasonable — language of the statute. It’s up to Congress to reform and repair the law.

(In one prominent case, however, the CPSC far exceeded its authority, developing a product safety complaint database with loosey-goosey reporting standards that invite the filing of false and inaccurate complaints. Trial lawyers and their “consumer activist” allies are delighted, but the CPSC’s overreach puts companies’ reputation at risk. We’re glad to see the draft bill include a section that could correct the CPSC’s bad decision.)

Two entire years, 2009 and 2010, passed without Congress doing much of anything to fix the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, despite the law’s many, serious excesses. Jobs were destroyed for no good reason, yet the 111th Congress failed to act.

It’s still early, but the draft legislation from the Energy and Commerce Committee represents the most significant progress made to improve the CPSIA. With a legislative vehicle to work on, the House can move forward with hearings and intensive work with industry groups and individuals affected by the law’s excesses.

Fixing the CPSIA is a major issue for manufacturers of consumer products, and we’re encouraged that the House committee is getting serious about it.

P.S. The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government holds a budget hearing on the CPSC on Thursday, with testimony from Chairman Inez Tenenbaum and Commissioner Anne Northup. The draft legislation would not logically be part of the hearing, but the costs of the product safety complaint database is an ongoing issue.

UPDATE (11:40 a.m.): The indefatigable Rick Woldenberg reminds us of the previous, not very productive efforts to change the CPSIA.

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